Spursy. The word bears so much affection and refers to so much suffering. How else to describe watching the team you love squander a seemingly-guaranteed positive result? Recent examples include (unfairly) the 2015-16 title race, last spring’s Champions League second leg against Juventus, even this fall’s first game against Inter Milan. It could just be confirmation bias, but for as long as I can remember, there has been a feeling about Spurs that no matter how good their form, no matter how certain their chances, they would find a way to make a hash of things. The most troubling manifestation of this habit was the way that Tottenham would play aimlessly and without conviction in big games or when they had a narrow lead to defend.
It seemed like some kind of mental curse: they could get results when they didn’t matter, but in the biggest moments, they always came up slightly short. No more. Last Wednesday’s game against Arsenal and the run of Champions League games that begin with Spurs beating PSV in November and ended with a miraculous draw against Barcelona to qualify for the Champions League are evidence that a serious revolution is taking place in the minds of the Tottenham players. Where they once saw chances to fail, Spurs players now relish the opportunity to step up and make their quality known.
They do this even in games that they end up losing. Earlier this month, Arsenal overpowered Spurs in a Premier League tie at the Emirates, but even as Tottenham lost, they showed a fighting spirit that has been lacking in recent seasons. The game began with the Gunners coming out so strong that they seemed to catch Spurs a bit off guard (because, y’know, Arsenal haven’t been much good at all lately), culminating in an early goal. If this were the Tottenham team of a few years ago, especially in the period immediately post-Bale, conceding early in a big game would have meant 90 minutes of Spurs halfheartedly hanging on for dear life. This time, though, it gave fire to the team, and although the result was fairly 4-2 in Arsenal’s favor, Spurs played harder the farther away their chances of winning got.
The heart that Spurs showed in that first game against Arsenal came good in this past week’s Carabao Cup tie, in which Dele carried the team to a trouncing of Arsenal at the Emirates, where they had lost 4-2 just weeks earlier. Danny Rose spoke after the match about how the team were motivated by a desire to reassert their dominance over the Gunners, while Dele held up an unforgettable “2-0” at the Arsenal fans after being attacked by one of them. That fighting spirit is a sign of how times have changed, that Spurs have come to think in terms of positive success rather than avoiding negative defeats, and it’s something to be proud of.
Nowhere was Tottenham’s new, winning attitude more obvious than in the second half of the Champions League group stage. After losing to Inter and Barcelona and drawing at PSV, Tottenham could not lose a single game of the remaining three—and needed to beat both Inter and PSV—in order to have half a chance at qualifying for the next round. With those odds, a Spurs fan of a few years ago would have known what to expect: maybe a glimmer of hope early on that would rapidly fade into oblivion, or maybe no hope at all.
But Poch’s men did the impossible, and did so through a combination of skill and grit. Spurs didn’t just accomplish what they needed to in these games, but did so when their chances of success were at their worst: in all three results, Tottenham’s deciding goals came after the 75th minute. That means that for three quarters of every game, they faced being eliminated from the Champions League, yet they hung on. Then, as if their hopes were paying off, Kane fired home twice against PSV, then Eriksen did the same against Inter, then Lucas powered an equalizer into the net at Barcelona. Through tenacity, hard work, and belief in one another, Poch’s Spurs conquered Spursiness.
This mental transformation is massive. The Arsenal and Champions League results, as well as the absolute domination that the holiday season has been for Spurs so far, are evidence that even though Spurs haven’t signed anybody new in a year, there is still room for growth in the squad. As Poch continues to bolster Spurs’ mental fortitude, killing off the doubts that have hampered us in the past and replacing them with echoes of glory, he is building the foundation that the team and club need to become champions. We will enter our new stadium in good form, christen it with a trophy, and end the season full of aspiration. Spursy no more.
Famous last words.